Bistro World

Cosmo Rouge goes for ultra-ultra chic. The food is dull dull.

Perhaps this is not intentional, but Cosmo Rouge Bistro & Lounge feels like The Black Lodge. You remember the Black Lodge? It was tucked in thick Pacific Northwest woods in a dream tucked in Twin Peaks. You remember Twin Peaks?

Twin Peaks was the surreal David Lynch murder mystery television series that inspired acres of cherry pie and "damn fine cup of coffee" viewing parties in the early 1990s. Blame it all on FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, the show's cherry-pie fetishist protagonist.

Cosmo Rouge doesn't have cherry pie. But it does have fetish-proof peach cobbler. It's an uninteresting flurry of canned cling peaches kicked to life with a preponderance of clove.

The Black Lodge had a room furnished with a wavy-patterned floor and plush red velvet draperies. The lodge was hosted by a red-suited dwarf known as the Man From Another Place. He spoke backward.

Cosmo Rouge is draped in yards of plush red velvet draperies bound by braided ropes. In the lounge, the frosted Plexiglas back bar gradually shifts among dreamy hues: from red to green to blue to violet to white. The luminescent red bar top is composed of crushed red glass bound in resin. Stools embracing the bar have a plush lumbar support but no back support. The fabric bar base has no foot rail. You float. The bartender speaks backward.

Or seems to. When confronted with an order for sparkling water, he cops an odd vocal cadence. "We have oring san ellero, I think, or er gelrino san..."

"San Pellegrino?"

We urged him to include a lime wedge. The bottle was big. So is Cosmo talk.

"Cosmo Rouge is Dallas' latest upscale Euro-chic dining and ultra-lounge experience," reads the Web page. "Upscale elegance is redefined at Cosmo Rouge for people who love great food, a contemporary ultra-lounge scene, as well as a good time spent out on the town."

Notice the lounge terminology. This lounge is not simply chic or hip or sultry or slinky. It's "ultra." Twice. What does one make of that? There's more:

"The concept for Cosmo Rouge Bistro and Lounge came into fruition when property was acquired by the owners in the historic Bishop Arts District to house this one of a kind venue. The goal was to create an upscale bistro and lounge concept with a strong European theme throughout the space...Combining the opulence and custom features of European bistros with a chic & contemporary atmosphere, exquisite food, and service second to none, Cosmo Rouge was launched in this artsy and vibrant area."

So, Cosmo Rouge sprang not from divination, but from a property transaction. Good food must follow--in escrow, no doubt. Notice, too, how Cosmo Rouge is a custom-featured upscale sample of chic contemporary opulence in the artsy Bishop. Cosmo Rouge is a buzzword debacle.

Does Cosmo Rouge express itself differently on the plate? Or must it be reverse-engineered through the Man-From-Another-Place-oratorical-generator to be fully appreciated?

Shrimp dumpling soup has a great skewered shrimp floating near the sloping bowl side. It barely breaks the broth surface. You can see the singe on the plump coil, the points upon which the grill did its violence. The shrimp is juicy. Dumplings huddle like a school of lunkers in the bowl's depths. They're gummy. Slivers of carrot flutter and dive with each spoon plunge. The broth is smooth but not potently seasoned, granting elegance to the bland in an odd, creamy sort of way.

Calamari confetti is thick stubby ribbons--chicken finger-like--of breaded and crisp calamari loosely scattered on a long rectangular serving plate hoisting two clear ramekins of dipping paste. The first is a simple cocktail sauce, the kind that used to give popcorn shrimp its food value. The second is more complex. It's an exhilarating aioli crackling with lemon as it pinches with salt through its soothing textural smoothness. It is rapidly depleted. Yet what puts the "confetti" into this confetti, other than the strips of orange roasted bell pepper draped over the gold-coat calamari like spent streamers, is also the weak point in this hash: shrimp. Huddled in the crook of the coiled beasts, tucked well beneath the crisped coat, are dabs of gummy batter that appear to not have been fried all of the way through.

Now let's address a declaration in the Cosmo burble: "service second to none." This claim would have searing credibility if two prerequisites existed for dining enjoyment: slothfulness and fingerprints. A Euro-chic domicile with a hue-shifting back bar and plush red draperies stimulates the urge to drink. Yet it would be unwise to bring a prodigious thirst to Cosmo because it takes a good 15 minutes for libations to arrive even in thin dining traffic. To be fair, the San Pellegrino arrived promptly, but wine orders and reorders, with server fingertips gripping glass bowls instead of stems, got bogged down. (We did have a damn fine glass of Talbott Kali Hart pinot noir.)

And it's not hard to see how. The dining room is populated with granite tables and silver chairs with impossibly tall backs that block the sight lines in all directions. This is not a see-and-be-seen venue. But it is ingenious how the tall chair backs create intimate little tucks of privacy as they blunt noise in the dining room. (Maybe the new wave in Dallas voyeurism is squint-and-be-unseen.) Like the chairs, banquettes have tucked high backs that reach toward the ceilings. A single banquet table rests on a raised staging area just off the bar.

The food is a noble effort really, especially at its bistro-like prices. Menu prose reads like this: garlic and lemon chicken--sage-roasted chicken with shallot, garlic and tomato on a bed of black olive mashed potatoes. Sounds enticing, doesn't it? Yet it's really nothing more than a leathery, parched breast with herb freckles.

Braised short ribs in cognac brown butter sauce is equally feckless. Ribs arrive in a bowl with delicious sections of squash, but the meat is overcooked and flushed with gristle and slightly off flavors reminiscent of rancid fat. Lamb chops were merely adequate: no silken rosy meat (server didn't ask how we wanted the chops prepared), compelling flavors or rich juices. Just gray chops flaunting banal tenderness. The four chops were positioned so that the bones formed a peak over the plate's centerpiece, a dab of delicious mushroom bread pudding. This is a minor work of brilliance, positioning this fungi, tamed with pudding, in the thick of a racy chop configuration--or would be if the chops raced.

At lunch, the room assumes a different complexion. Sunlight washes over the red velvet, extracting a bit of plushness that seems to thrive only in "ultra-lounge" light. Cosmo sparkles a little, but the silver chairs seem contrived under the sanitizing sun rays.

Food founders further. Sure, the mushroom soup is a tactical success. Its puréed mushroom thickness in rich cream supports a centerpiece of coiled coconut shavings that reach out from the surface like floral whorls. As in the shrimp dumpling soup, seasoning is throttled, permitting the musty mushroom to tangle with the slightly pungent coconut shavings unencumbered.

But the Cosmo club sandwich is painfully dull--just simple toast, ham, turkey and apple wood-smoked bacon fringed with lettuce and fried green tomatoes. No mayo. Pastitsio, the Greek lasagna variant layered with pasta tubes, ground beef and cheese blanketed with a béchamel sauce, was cold and hard until you reached the inner sanctums, which were steaming. Nuked?

Nuked spoken backward is dekun. How ultra-lounge. Now go unseen. 407 N. Bishop Ave., 214-942-0202. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; open for dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Thursday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday & Saturday and 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. Open for Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $$-$$$

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